Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Sociological Triolets

by G.K. Chesterton

(Written on first looking into Mr. Bellamy's "Looking Backwards"; or "Much have I travelled in these Realms of Gold")

I

The Collectivist State
Is a prig and a bandit.
I despise and I hate
The Collectivist State;
It may be My Fate,
But I'm damned if I'll stand it!
The Collectivist State
Is a prig and a bandit.

II

The Capitalist State
Is a garden of roses;
It's been proved in debate
--The Capitalist State--
But, strange to relate,
We are holding our noses,
The Capitalist State
Is a Garden of Roses.

III

The Communist State
Is all mixed up together.
Where we participate
--The Communist State--
There can be no hate--
(But we all hate the weather)
The Communist State
Is all mixed up together.

IV

The Syndical State
Raises awful emotion
In the Wise and the Great,
"The Syndical State".
What the words indicate
They haven't a notion.
The Syndical State
Raises awful emotion.

V

The Anarchis.t State
Is a flat contradiction.
So let Tolstoy narrate
The Anarchis.t State--
His powers, which were great,
Were more suited to fiction;
The Anarchis.t State
Is a flat contradiction.

VI

The Servile (ow!) State
Is like this, only worse,
Degradation's its fate--
The Servile (oo!) State
It's debased, desecrate
--And it don't care a curse--
The Servile (ugh!) State
Is like this, only worse.

VII

The Distributive State
You'd like if you'd met it
But you buy at a hard rate
The Distributive State.
It means Early and Late
--And don't you forget it--
The Distributive State
You'd like if you'd met it.

* * *

If anyone didn't know what a triolet is, here are seven good examples. My personal favourite, though (also by Chesterton) is,

I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs:
Of all the things I wish to wish
I wish I were a jelly fish
That hasn't any cares,
And doesn't even have to wish
"I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs."

I happened to mention in the last post that I happen to like the idea of "The Distributive State." I didn't expect such an outcry. I almost changed my mind about posting these triolets, because I didn't invent my blog as a place for political debate (politics just isn't my forte, and economics is only a new interest), but as I had already planned to post them, I went ahead and did. Besides, I am not afraid to answer anyone who has an objection to anything I say here.

Two provisos, however. One, I am a newcomer to distributism. All the distributist literature I have read is An Essay on the Restoration of Property and a mention or two in Chesterton. So if you want someone who knows all there is on the subject, you should probably go debate with someone else. Dr. Thursday might know.

Two, if you want to say something, be nice. And speak to the subject at hand. There is no need to belittle anyone or bring up irrelevant details. If your ideas really work, they should speak for themselves.

Thanks everyone, and happy poetry reading!

P.S. I just realised I missed Uncle Gilbert's birthday two days ago! Something belated shall be posted soon in honour of the (past) event.

P.P.S. Excuse the periods in the middle of the word "anar.chist". I just discovered that my computer was taking it out. My computer is insane: "damned" and "hell" are perfectly all right, but "gi.rl," "dea.th," "godd.ess," and now "anar.chist" are verboten. Since it is not actually my own computer, I can't fix it, so I must work around it. Your pardon, gentles all.

31 comments:

santiago said...

This clever poem is an example of the utopian fallacy: any existing system will always compare poorly to an imaginary ideal system. Of course, all existing systems will be poor compared to an ideal: we live in a fallen world, in the city of Man, not the kingdom of God. We have seen planned economies fall into stagnation; we have seen capitalist economies feed more mouths than planned economies, and protect the freedom of people more effectively. Out of imperfect existents, I choose the one that feeds more mouths and keeps me more free. Show me "real existing distributism," and let's judge from that. But comparing ideas with realities is not very useful.

Sorry if I sound combative in tone. I love GKC tho. And Belloc. And I probably owe my disordered affection for the polemical bull session to Belloc's polemical histories.

Charlemagne said...

The fact is that distributist ideals have been put into action, and have worked. In the 1950s and 60s, Salazar's Portugal and Franco's Spain rose to unprecedented heights of economic prosperity. Today, states such as Switzerland, Iceland, Luxembourg and Belgium have a decentralized, semi-distributist, and are some of the wealthiest nations on the planet.

Sheila said...

Thank you, Charlemagne.

Santiago, are you really sorry you sound combative in tone? Because if you are, maybe you should make a habit of re-reading your comments before you post them. It is easy to sound combative when you draw off the "bilgewater" (to use a term of Hopkins) of your thoughts instead of giving them a moment to settle.

Like Catholicism, distributism "has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found too difficult and left untried." I would leave to one side the question of whether it is possible until it has been decided whether it is desirable. After that, one can decide whether it is worth the effort it would take. Chesterton -- and I -- would point out that choosing from what seems "possible" leads to all sorts of problems -- like the bipartisan system he wrote against so sensibly in What's Wrong With the World. Nowadays people are afraid even to mention what they actually want. What do you actually want, Santiago? Do you think capitalism is the ideal? If not, it needs to be changed or reformed. How would you do it, if you could? After that, the practical considerations can come in of how it could be done and how much change can be obtained.

John has an article about distributism at This Red Rock (This Red Rock: The Root of the Distributist-Capitalist Debate). He knows a good bit more about the subject than I, so it might be worth your while to hop over and see what he said. And I know for a fact he will not mind debating with you in the least.

James CT said...

The usurious state:
(Still need to pay the bank)
They lend at a hard rate.
The usurious state:
(my payments getting late,
this apartment's getting rank)
The usurious state
(Still need to pay the bank)

Neither coherent nor valuable, but fun to write.

In any event, one thing I dislike especially is being in debt. When one works merely to pay off a vast loan (as many modern workers do) or sinks further into debt while working (many modern workers; WV coal miners in recent history as case in point), it is depressing, creases one's motivation to work, and unbefitting mans dignity: a condition fully worthy of the title "wage-slave". It is a normal condition for workers in a capitalist society. Loans, credit cards, and most recently "Check-n-go" places, all take advantage of the poor by charging inflated and unjust rates.

I don't believe Santiago ever adressed what Sheila identified as the key point of Distributism: personal ownership. As I see it, the alternative is the above situation, which I would despise. Neither can I see how anyone could prefer it.

As to the distributist system, Chesterton said regarding it (paraphrase) "What man has done, man can do." An essentially distributist system has existed in the past according to him (history's not my forte) and if it has been done in the past, it is foolish to argue it is impossible to do in the future.

I love to argue (especially about politics); but I'll be quiet if Sheila doesn't want to turn this into a political form.

Sheila said...

Oh, by all means go ahead, James. An argument is here, and we may as well ride it out. If you like, you may go and argue over and John's place, but I won't kick the debate out as long as everyone is decent and respectable.

Yes; distributism has existed, and existed widely too. Feudalism eventually led to a widespread peasantry with inalienable rights to the land. This was not overturned until after the Enlightenment. The Statute of Frauds was its destroyer in England; it stated that anyone without a written deed to property was subject to lose it. Of course this destroyed the small landowner. The Industrial Revolution was part of the problem, but Belloc stresses that it could have been prevented from destroying well-distributed property by appropriate laws.

As for loans, they are part and parcel of the state of the wage-slave. In addition to being at the mercy of his employers, he must also serve his creditors. His soul is no longer completely his own, but belongs to the bank holding his mortgage. This is why most people do not really own property: the houses most of us "own" really belong to the bank.

Leah said...

Sheila,
Well, you definitely argue like someone who has read "What's Wrong With the World." :-)

Don't have to much to say on this distributism thing, but I'm convinced that there are many more possible ways of living than we usually will admit to, and that it's better to strive after an ideal and fail than to settle for what one knows to be less than ideal. (I live on an organic farm that is taking slow steps towards self-sufficiency, btw.)

I've been trying to figure out a way to attend the Chesterton Conference, but I just can't make it work. Maybe next year.

Sheila said...

Too bad. Some year, you should try it.

I admire people who take the plunge towards some sort of self-sufficiency, especially here in a society that makes it a considerable risk and expense. It shows that there are still people who value freedom (as well as spiritual goods) over security and material gain.

John said...

I've written a response to Santiago's assertion that the change of economic system is impossible. Hope you don't mind me spamming it:

http://shadowoftherock.blogspot.com/2006/06/on-lack-of-christian-capitalists.html

I first became interested in Distributism at the GKC Conference last year. Thanks in advance to whoever reads this!

Sheila said...

Wow, good article. And so true.

Santiago said...

ehh, sorry for the delay in responding. I just moved to a new city for the summer. Hmm, you are right, Mme., that I am not sorry for my combative tone. I should not have apologized for it--Chesterbelloc never did.

Okay, hmm, Mr Charlemagne, if you call what's going on in Austria distributism, then I guess I am a distributist. But I think you are one of the few that call it that. Then again, when you start summoning nefarious tyrants like Generalissimo Franco to your cause, count me out. I wonder if anyone in your family was ever a political prisoner? Kinda changes your perspective on things. On to John's place...

Propter Quid said...

Charlemenge is correct Distributism has been tried many times. Franco's Spain, Dolfuss's Austria, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany were all Corporatist which is a supperset of Distributism. Distributism, like Socialism, implies oppression and the suppression of property rights, which goes against the teachings of the Church laid out in Rerum Novarum.

Sheila said...

Santiago, I have not the slightest objection to your being combative . . . on your own blog. I would prefer you abstain from it here, though.

I am not going to defend Charlemagne's politics, because I quite frankly know next to nothing about them. But you could discuss them with him. His blog is linked on my sidebar.

"Supperset"? Do you mean "subset" or "superset"?

I think you'll need to prove your point a little more, PQ. Your thesis is clear, that distributism implies oppression and the suppression of property rights, but that is far from obvious. It seems to me that all the government does is offer more protection to the small owner and prevent larger owners from oppressing the smaller. Certainly a legitimate use of governmental power, just as (in Belloc's example) government may prevent oppression of the physically weak by the physically strong by laws against assault. Papal encyclicals have always insisted that the ownership rights of the poor be protected against larger owners as well as against the government.

About the historical side of things, I'll leave that to Charlemagne, because I really have not studied it at all.

Propter Quid said...

Superset, of course.

Sheila, doing a job better than one less capable is not the same as assault. The main reason the large buisinesses eat up the market share in some industries is because they do a better job and provide it at a lower cost than smaller buisinesses. People then choose to do buisiness with the larger buisiness insteed of the smaller. There's no calculated effort to weed out the small.

God BLess.

Charlemagne said...

Santiago- Were any of your forefathers "opressed" by Franco? If so, why? If not, why bring it up? The men "opressed" by Franco were communists and anarchists with backing from Stalin, and as such sworn enemies of the Church. They had metted out to them what they had done to so many saints, canonized and uncanonized.

But your question, wasn't on politics, but on "real existing distributism." And the fact remains that Franco's economic system was a form of corporatism, based on the writings of Heinrich Pesch and Pius XI. And it worked; under Franco Spain became one of the most prosperous nations in Europe. You simply can't argue against what works, though I daresay you'll try.

Propter Quid- It's true that there is no conscious effort to weed out the small; it just happens. A business, let's say Wal-Mart, starts out providing goods in an effort to make money. Because of the owner's ingenuity, the company grows...and grows...and grows. Soon it controls the market, offering cheap goods for low prices; the Mom and Pop store can't compete with a giant of this magnitude, and are forced to close. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart makes a killer profit from its control of the market, its political connections, and its support of the abortion industry. It grows some more; other small shops close down, and soon you have a monopoly. Is that what you want? According to the video we say in history, there are five mega-companys controlling the economy. All they focus on is gaining a larger profit, and because of this they keep expanding. When will it stop? We can't afford another Enron, or another Standard Oil.

Charlemagne said...

One final note: Once a monopoly has been installed, the company can do whatever it darn well pleases. It no longer has to provide better services, or even lower prices, because the customers can't go anywhere else.

Propter Quid said...

Charlemagne, Franco opressed more that just the communists. He oppressesed unique ethnic groups as well. Both Euskara and Catalonian were listed as forbiden languages under Franco's rule.



Also, how many monopolies do you know of in the United States today?

Walmart is countered by both Target and K-Mart.

Microsoft is countered by Macintosh in the home desktop market and is still the minority in the developement and server markets.

Standard Oil gained it's monopoly in the 19th century through shady dealings with railroad companies. There are laws now to counteract that.

Enron was not a monopoly at all but a case of fraud and embezzlement. People doctored financial reports in order to mislead the public. This is something that both against the spirit of Capitalism and possible in all systems even Distributism.

Funny that there hasn't been a true monopoly in this country in over a hundred years, except for the labor unions who still hold a monopoly on labor.

It's alsow funny that you should complain about monopolies. From my understanding, Distributism favors the introduction of the guild system. By handing an entire industry over to a guild you create a de-facto, government-endorsed, monopoly who's main purpose is to maintain the security of its members. This was the cause of much poverty in the middle ages as thousands of people starved or begged because the guilds wouldn't let them work.

Sheila said...

The problem with big companies is not exclusively the danger of monopoly. There are those of us who simply believe that the Mom-and-Pop store on the corner is better than Wal-Mart. Instead of a surly teenager earning minimum wage, we will probably be served by the store's owner. In an interest to helping a friend and neighbor, as well as keeping our business, the owner of the small store will give us better service and even keep in touch with us afterward to find out if his product was satisfactory. The manager of a Wal-Mart outlet, on the other hand, knows that if he loses your business, there are plenty of other people who will come to him, and he focuses his concern on turning over a larger profit to impress his superiors on the corporate ladder.

I don't feel I need to prove this is the case, because the experience bears it out time and again. The owner of the small pet store on the corner would always be asking after our cats and finding out what products had worked for us. The elderly owner of a small paint shop in Front Royal cut the price of the paint for us on the spot, as well as giving expert advice on what paint to buy (not the most expensive kind!). Unfortunately, this old man was driven out of business when Parker Paint moved in across the street. He simply couldn't afford to sell his paint as cheaply as they could.

Those who sympathize with the Distributist ideal are those who feel that something is lost when the elderly paint store man has to give up his shop. He was a happy, self-supporting business owner, and with the loss of his business, he probably had to just go home and collect Social Security, being too old to look for a new job. His store meant independence to him, the freedom to make his own choices as to what he would sell and how much he would charge. An employee at Parker Paint would have no choice in any of these matters, and could be laid off at any time. Face it: the lowly employees at a large business usually dislike their jobs and do it only to earn the wage. The owner of a business usually goes into business for something he likes, and has no objection to putting in extra hours on his work. He gains independence, something that is not measurable in money, which is why capitalists never figure it into their equations.

I don't think it matters much that Wal-Mart has K-Mart to compete with it. The consumer still has little choice, since both stores offer almost exactly the same things at the same prices, with the same bored cashiers at each store. The huge monsters fight each other, but we ourselves are no better off, because we would like a system where there are no monsters, or at least one in which we may be placed on an equal playing field with them.

As for the guild system, from what I understand, no one is trying to reconstruct the guild system exactly as it existed in the Middle Ages. Of course, the guild would have certain requirements: no one's work could be given the approval of the guild unless it measured up to the guild's standards of quality. But you couldn't deny that that would be necessary, for when there are many small businesses and artisans, there must be some way of telling which will provide quality work and which will not.

Propter Quid said...

If service was worth more than price then "Mom and Pop" stores wouldn't go out of buisiness over a one or two dollar's savings. It hardly seems fair that you should subject consumers to higher prices just because you and a few others feel more comfortable with smaller buisiness's. Some people have to be frugle. Without larger stores these people would be forced to make due with higher prices. Pressuming that a certain way of doing buisiness is more important than the ability to purchase what one needs.

Sheila said...

Did anyone say the distributists wanted to "subject consumers to higher prices"? Or that large businesses were to disappear entirely? Not necessarily. The idea is to remove some of the disadvantages belonging to the smaller store so that it can compete fairly with larger stores.

Also, if people owned their own property, they would be less dependent on finding rock-bottom prices because they would no longer be living on a monthly or weekly paycheck.

Propter Quid said...

No one said Distributists 'wanted' to subject consumers to higher prices but the removal of competition in the market would do that nontheless. Security encourages pricegouging, laziness and inefficiency. Business's should earn their security though good service and good product, not through some government entity or guild that favors people with less ambition.

Most people do own their own property. If they didn't it wouldn't be their property now would it? But seriously, you mean their own buisiness...
If people owned their own buisiness's they would still be dependent on the consumers who purchase their goods. If the consumers found someone who did it better, the people would be out of business. At least with a weekly or monthly paycheck, the pay is consistent, especially if one works for a large buisiness. This is why so many people choose employment instead opening up their own buisiness.

God Bless.

Sheila said...

Sorry it took me so long to answer; I was at the Chesterton Convention.

1. Distributism does not believe in eliminating competition. Some regulation would be provided by the guilds, but competition remains a force, just no longer a completely unbridled one.

2. Most people do not own their own property. Most people's houses are mortgaged. The distributist definition of property is (briefly) the means of production. A business, a farm, or a home (rooms can be rented, for example) can all be means of production.

3. The goal of distributism is not security. I would agree that capitalism can often offer as much. The goal is freedom, found through economic independence. A man who makes minimum wage at a store, for instance, and spends a percent of his wage to rent an apartment, may be comfortable and secure. But he is not free, because he is bound to his employer if he wishes to continue to make enough to keep his apartment. He has little control over the conditions of his workplace or the hours he works. If he owns his home, that adds a degree of freedom -- if he wants to quit his job and look for another, he has a place to live while he looks. If he has his own business, it is much easier for him to change both the details and the entire nature of his work. There are also the advantages I put above, about how much more willingly a man works when he works freely, for himself.

Security is a minimum. But distributists believe freedom and independence are also goods it is worthwhile to pursue. Many do not find independence even desirable, in which case distributism is not of interest to them. But if it is desirable, it is worthwhile to see if it may be made easier to obtain in a different economic system.

Propter Quid said...

Sorry it took me so long to answer; I was at the Chesterton Convention.

Understood. I knew where you were.

But I'll have to respond to you're points:

1. Limiting competition produces the same effects as eliminating it, just less so.

2. Everybody owns their own property, otherwise it wouldn't be their property. Of course what you mean is: "most people don't own the property that they use," which is a different matter. This is not the fault of large buisiness or the marxist "wage slave" notion but of banks, both large and small using loans to inflate the buying power.

People, of their own free will, have the opportunity to take out a loan in order to make large, one time purchases. Nobody is made to take out a loan or mortage so it is their own fault.

Even this isn't a bad thing. If these loans and mortages weren't available, it would not be possible for many families and individuals (including my own) to obtain homes. paying of mortages is far less demanding than one lump sums, especially for large investements such as homes.

3. Capitalism doesn't offer security. It offers freedom. In a capitalist system, every individual is free to dispose of his belongings as he sees fit. He can choose his employer, apartment, food, etc. so long as its available. He can invest his funds in entrepreneurial ventures or in homes. He can take out loans to inflate his money supply for investment. In capitalism, man is completely free within his means.

I don't see how distributism can improve this. Distributism doesn't promise to increase man's means and within his means it promises to restrict him. This is especially the case since distributism seeks a world where most people own their own means of making a living. This would be very limiting. If I decided I didn't like my own farm I couldn't just drop it and get a job elsewere. I couldn't just decide to abandon my factory to move to the next town where there is more buisiness or that Catholic school. I'd be pretty much stuck with my own property. Property as such does not provide that great a degree of freedom. Liquid wealth does. Capitalism provides liquid wealth, distributism doesn't.

The usual distributism (and marxist) complaints about the capitalist infringements on freedom are unfounded. The main one: the wage slave, particularly so. Short of a monopoly on employment, employers can't keep wage slaves. As it is, the wage is an investement on the part of an employer in the labor of an individual workers. It is 'purchased' from the laborer ong before the employer sees any profit from it. Employers can increase wages and employment when production goes up and they are forced to reduce it when production goes down. They also have to remain competitive with other employers. For these reasons, like like prices, wages are dependent on the market. When it is healthy, prices go down and wages go up. When it isn't healthy, wages go down and prices go up. A freed market is less likely to get ill, in the same way that an individual with a loose collar is less likely to suffocate. As it is, only kids work on minimum wage. If the minimum wage were increased, certain jobs would disappear but the average working adult would not make any more money.

---

Another point about minimum wage: Minimum wage hurts small businesses much more than it hurts large buisinesses. Large businesses have the luxury of highering virtually anyone they choose. Small businesses don't. Small buisinesses need labor to do the same things that large buisinesses do but they also need to be more flexible. Large buisinesses can afford to high professional packers for instance, but minimum wage prevents small buisiness from highering local kids to do the same job. Minimum wage creates a minimum size for buisiness. It is similar with other market regulations. Market regulations hurt buisinesses. They hurt small buisinesses more than they hurt large buisinesses. Distributism offers nothing but it's own brand of market regulation. In this way, Distributism can only hurt buisiness, small especially.

God Bless.

John said...

People, of their own free will, have the opportunity to take out a loan in order to make large, one time purchases. Nobody is made to take out a loan or mortage so it is their own fault.

But you almost can't buy a house unless you go through a bank. You have no choice. Try it, sometime. No realtor will let you pay cash. It's another case of the rules being set up to influence a certain thing a certain way. Those rules can be changed. People should be able to buy homes without being forced to go to a bank. Where's the freedom there?

Paying of mortages is far less demanding than one lump sums, especially for large investements such as homes.

A home should never an investment. It is a home. I have no problem going to a bank for an investment, provided the loan is not usurous. But you cannot treat a person's home as a commodity. It always means something more, or else it is just a house, not a home.

Capitalism doesn't offer security. It offers freedom. In a capitalist system, every individual is free to dispose of his belongings as he sees fit. He can choose his employer, apartment, food, etc. so long as its available. He can invest his funds in entrepreneurial ventures or in homes. He can take out loans to inflate his money supply for investment. In capitalism, man is completely free within his means.

And if those means are cut off? What about having large families? What if an employee can't make enough to pay off all those wonderful bank loans and have a sixth child? He will either be evicted, or you might have to endorse a contraceptive mentality. In short, the family becomes subjugated to the wage, which can be changed or even removed at any time. Because the employers have the autonomy that you think the employees have, the free market system merely means he can absolve from himself the human requirement to care for his employees and their families.

Don't get me wrong, this needs to be balanced to be fair to the employer, too.

However, the simple fact is that the family right now is not autonomous but at the mercy of a very tenuous economic system... one that on its most basic level is about profit. The only reason we do not have child labor right now is because there are laws against it. The minimum wage, the child labor laws, they are testimony to the tendencies of this system.

I really think you need to rethink your direction here. Stop thinking about how you can defend capitalism (as I used to do all the time) and think in terms of the family, social justice and true economic independence (i.e., not relying entirely on a wage from somebody else to sustain life). Think in terms of communities, not in terms of corporations. Catholic social teaching is based on the community, and the familty, too. These must be best served, if society is to be under a Catholic form.

Propter Quid said...

But you almost can't buy a house unless you go through a bank. You have no choice. Try it, sometime. No realtor will let you pay cash. It's another case of the rules being set up to influence a certain thing a certain way. Those rules can be changed. People should be able to buy homes without being forced to go to a bank. Where's the freedom there?

I'm not aware of this 'rule.' There is not law that instructs how one is allowed to do buisiness in this regard. If their is, it isn't Capitalist. As for the realtors not letting you pay in cash, large cash sums are risky. Bank transactions are more secure.

A home should never an investment. It is a home. I have no problem going to a bank for an investment, provided the loan is not usurous. But you cannot treat a person's home as a commodity. It always means something more, or else it is just a house, not a home

A home IS an investment whether you want it to be or not. So is a buisiness. EVERYTHING you ever buy, do, or say is an investment. You've either used your time, money, etc. wisely or you've wasted it. Just because someone needs a home does not mean that they have a right to it. People must earn everything through effective work, even what they need. Before one purchases a house they should make the same careful reasoning the make before every purchase.

And if those means are cut off? What about having large families? What if an employee can't make enough to pay off all those wonderful bank loans and have a sixth child? He will either be evicted, or you might have to endorse a contraceptive mentality. In short, the family becomes subjugated to the wage, which can be changed or even removed at any time. Because the employers have the autonomy that you think the employees have, the free market system merely means he can absolve from himself the human requirement to care for his employees and their families.

You can be cut off in Distributism too. People can stop prefering your buisiness. Economic freedom, no matter which system you adopt, is always with one's means. You can only restrict it further. The purpose of Capitalism and the freedom of trade is to allow those means to increase. This is called market growth. When more wealth is generated, there is more means to go around. This equates to more freedom. We will always free slaves to our means, whether it be employment or a small shop. The amount of wealth we get within that means is what determines our economic freedom.

My family has six children and yet it owns a home in one the most competetive markets in North America, northern Virginia. We've done this because we've wisely balanced our finances, invested in education to get better employment, and avoided unnecessary expenses. We don't have a right to our home, we earned it. Nobody can say otherwise.

Don't get me wrong, this needs to be balanced to be fair to the employer, too.

It's not about fairness to the employer. If he has to spend too much on wages, he'll be unable to support and expand his buisiness and employment will disapear. The prime example of this is whats been in the news about GM lately. Due to union pressure, GM plant employees are well paid and have generous pension plans. As a result, GM is faceing mounting costs for labor. As a result, they are being surpassed by Toyota as the largest automotive manufacturer in the world. In few months they will be closing plants all over the north east. Thousands upon thousands of jobs are being lost due to employee greed. You mentioned being 'cut off' just a moment ago. The cause of being 'cut off' is more often due to over regulation than to under regulation. This is very important.

However, the simple fact is that the family right now is not autonomous but at the mercy of a very tenuous economic system... one that on its most basic level is about profit. The only reason we do not have child labor right now is because there are laws against it. The minimum wage, the child labor laws, they are testimony to the tendencies of this system.

They are not at the mercy of any system but of their own means. This is something that Distributism cannot change.

I am against minimum wage and child labor laws because both of them hurt employment. Nobody works on minimum wage anymore because their jobs are worth more than that. Children should be able to get jobs and get experience in the working world.

I really think you need to rethink your direction here. Stop thinking about how you can defend capitalism (as I used to do all the time) and think in terms of the family, social justice and true economic independence (i.e., not relying entirely on a wage from somebody else to sustain life). Think in terms of communities, not in terms of corporations. Catholic social teaching is based on the community, and the familty, too. These must be best served, if society is to be under a Catholic form.

I think along these terms:

Families are dependent on their means
Means is determined by wealth and economic health
Capitalism encourages wealth and economic health
Capitalism is good for families.

John said...

When you start saying that children should have to work to let their families survive, I feel that nothing else needs to be said. The fact is that employers in the current system have a history of trying to take advantage of their workers. That's why unions came into existence. The child labor laws were invented to protect children from the harrowing conditions of capitalist employment.

And "means" for you means a wage, I guess. You don't care about economic independence, just wages and their increase. And anybody who has ever had a job in the capitalist system knows that employers always look to lower the wage, not raise it.

A family is always dependent on its means. Means being determined by wealth and economic health means nothing. Means is determined by ownership. This is stated in Rerum Novarum, and every social economic encyclical since. If it is not dictated by ownership, then there need be no concept of ownership. When you look outside of family ownership for family survival you run into socialism or communism.

You cannot own a wage. You cannot even always count on it. Yet you posit that people should raise their families on it. This would not be so bad, except that you insist that this is how families are served best.

The industrial revolution split the family, The father was away from home all day, doing a job that was never done. The children were sent into the workplace, not to learn a trade, but to do mind-numbing factory work. In later times, the women who were abandoned at home by the men pursuing their corporate careers started the feminist movement. If the business world had never been glorified, that's a caper that might never have happened.

The family is of tantamount importance to society. It's our obligation to form an economic system that will truly serve its needs best. How can you decry the child labor laws because they harm employment in the same breath as saying that the system under which it was necessary to place them serves the family the best?

Our dream is just that: a dream. However, it is at least a good dream, compared to a very poor reality. A little revolution now and then is a good thing, particularly where you can see the injustice of a predominant system staring you in the face.

Capitalism encourages wealth. However, there is a bigger question that you ignore: is wealth what is best for families?

Even if an unlimited flow of money is coming into a family, and they can buy everything at a cheap price, there is a basic social instinct in man for ownership. A man wants to marry one woman, and to have his own children. If he lived in a system like the ancient Spartan one where he could share wives in common or raise any man's children, he would be fundamentally unhappy. This is not a different issue, as the family relies on its home nearly as much as it relies on its unity. Even if this unity was not shattered by the capitalist system, the home loses something very important by the mere fact that it is not truly the family's home.

Just as a man wants the liberty to marry one woman, a good woman, and raise his own family, a man wants the liberty to live in one place, a good place, and live in his own home.

This is not too much to ask. However, it is nearly impossible to attain in this system. When the system makes it a rarity (and you cannot deny that the system has a great deal to do with it, for this is a deep-set desire, and there would not be a general foregoing of it volutarily without the system being involved), you must either deny this instinct of man or the justice of the system.

I find your syllogism incorrect. Your final statement, contains the word good. However, you adroitly left out the part of the syllogism that says that families being totally dependent on their means is good, once you have defined means as a wage.

Propter Quid said...

When you start saying that children should have to work to let their families survive, I feel that nothing else needs to be said.

I did not say that. Don't mistate me.

The fact is that employers in the current system have a history of trying to take advantage of their workers. That's why unions came into existence.

Unions didn't actually gain power until the great depression in the 1930's. Thousands of people lost their livelyhoods due to an economic downturn which in turn was caused by excessive government control. New Deal unions promise security in the face of future downturns. Until then, widespread public opinion was strongly against unions, even during the supposedly oppresive guilded age.

The child labor laws were invented to protect children from the harrowing conditions of capitalist employment.

Children have been employed since the beginning of time. Factory work for children was caused by industrialization, not capitalism.

And "means" for you means a wage, I guess. You don't care about economic independence, just wages and their increase.

Don't tell me what I care about. You can't read my mind. I do care about economic independence, just wages and their increase. I maintain that capitalism is the way to do this.

And anybody who has ever had a job in the capitalist system knows that employers always look to lower the wage, not raise it.

I've had jobs in the capitalist system. I don't "know" this. Employers reward loyal workers and good workers with raises and punish lazy workers with wage decreases. This is the way it has always worked for me.

A family is always dependent on its means. Means being determined by wealth and economic health means nothing. Means is determined by ownership. This is stated in Rerum Novarum, and every social economic encyclical since.

If by ownership, you mean wealth, you are correct. Every employee owns the proceeds of his wage. If this is what you mean then we are in complete agreement.

If it is not dictated by ownership, then there need be no concept of ownership.

Your concept of ownership must be very different than mine.

When you look outside of family ownership for family survival you run into socialism or communism.

So you don't believe in society or cooperation or trade? People have been doing these things since the beginning of time. I guess were all communists. Or, maybe you need to check what a communist is.

You cannot own a wage.

You can own the proceeds.

You cannot even always count on it.

You can't count on "property" either.

Yet you posit that people should raise their families on it.

Why not? That's how my family lives and we have much more than we need.

This would not be so bad, except that you insist that this is how families are served best.

It is.

The industrial revolution split the family, The father was away from home all day, doing a job that was never done. The children were sent into the workplace, not to learn a trade, but to do mind-numbing factory work. In later times, the women who were abandoned at home by the men pursuing their corporate careers started the feminist movement. If the business world had never been glorified, that's a caper that might never have happened.

The industrial revolution is not identical with capitalism. The problems your talking about come from the rise of the factory. So far as I understand, neither you nor I are against factories. In fact, you made a huge deal of this in order not to be accused of agrarianism. Criticism of factories amounts to agrarianism so you seem to be reversing stanced here.

The family is of tantamount importance to society. It's our obligation to form an economic system that will truly serve its needs best. How can you decry the child labor laws because they harm employment in the same breath as saying that the system under which it was necessary to place them serves the family the best?

I don't decry child labor laws because they are "bad for employment," whatever that means, but because they deprive children of the ability to work when they want to. I've know children (as a child) who were unable to get paid by neighbors for lawncare because people were afraid that they would be abused. This is unjust.

Our dream is just that: a dream. However, it is at least a good dream, compared to a very poor reality. A little revolution now and then is a good thing, particularly where you can see the injustice of a predominant system staring you in the face.

The old proverb says, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." People in our modern capitalist society are better off than they've ever been, families included. There's no need for a revolution of this sort right now.

Capitalism encourages wealth. However, there is a bigger question that you ignore: is wealth what is best for families?

Yes. Wealth grants independence. By your own admission, independence is good for families.

Even if an unlimited flow of money is coming into a family, and they can buy everything at a cheap price, there is a basic social instinct in man for ownership. A man wants to marry one woman, and to have his own children. If he lived in a system like the ancient Spartan one where he could share wives in common or raise any man's children, he would be fundamentally unhappy. This is not a different issue, as the family relies on its home nearly as much as it relies on its unity. Even if this unity was not shattered by the capitalist system, the home loses something very important by the mere fact that it is not truly the family's home.

Home is what you make it. You don't need to own a place for it to be your home. I suppose you believe there is something fundamentally wrong with moving?

Just as a man wants the liberty to marry one woman, a good woman, and raise his own family, a man wants the liberty to live in one place, a good place, and live in his own home.

You do think there is something wrong with moving! My family, until recently was a military family. We moved a lot to meet the demands of the army. Have I never had a home?

This is not too much to ask. However, it is nearly impossible to attain in this system. When the system makes it a rarity (and you cannot deny that the system has a great deal to do with it, for this is a deep-set desire, and there would not be a general foregoing of it volutarily without the system being involved), you must either deny this instinct of man or the justice of the system.

Home ownership is at an all time high in modern society. Capitalism is obviously good for people.

I find your syllogism incorrect. Your final statement, contains the word good. However, you adroitly left out the part of the syllogism that says that families being totally dependent on their means is good, once you have defined means as a wage.

Family dependence on means in not a good but a fact. You can't avoid it. Whether the means be a wage or exercised through property, everybody is dependent on it. To improve someone's means is to help them. I don't see what's so hard about this.

Sheila said...

I'm going to leave John to answer the objections you made to his comments, but let me just object to a few things:

Employers reward loyal workers and good workers with raises and punish lazy workers with wage decreases.

But you have to admit that people often take pay cuts just because the company doesn't want or can't afford to pay that much. Or they are laid off, good workers or not, because of decisions made high up in the company. You've worked in an economic boom, I suppose, but I remember my dad being laid off from jobs or taking pay cuts he didn't deserve (he is an extremely hard worker). I'm just not comfortable being so completely dependent on an employer. Being dependent on the market to buy your products is still a kind of dependence, as you say, but a whole market can never be so capricious as a single CEO who can fire you for any reason whatever. When you have property instead of relying on a wage, you can weather economic trouble by working harder and cutting expenses, because, though your profit may go down, you can never be fired. You still have at least something.

Thousands of people lost their livelyhoods [sic] due to an economic downturn which in turn was caused by excessive government control.

Speaking of making sweeping historical statements without citing sources! I just straight-out don't believe that the Depression was caused by excessive government control. You'll have to prove that. It seemed to me it was caused in large part by unbridled speculation and too little regulation on the banks.

I've know children (as a child) who were unable to get paid by neighbors for lawncare because people were afraid that they would be abused. This is unjust.

It is also silly. There is no law saying people can't pay a kid to mow their lawn. If it's just a matter of "people being afraid," that's their problem, not the fault of child labor laws. I've been paid for my babysitting since I was 12. We in turn sometimes pay a neighbor kid to mow our lawn. It's work within the larger capitalist economy that I worry about. Whether it's in a factory or a store, work for children leaves them in a position where they are easily taken advantage of. Besides, removal of child labor laws would not just allow children to work. Soon it might well return to the way it was before the imposition of those laws, when children were expected to work.

People in our modern capitalist society are better off than they've ever been, families included.

Can you possibly believe this? How can you think families are better off than they've ever been? Because they have more cash? Where is family stability? Look at the divorce rate. Look at the intrusion advertising (a capitalist innovation) makes into our moral lives. Look at the abortion rate. Look at the birth rate. Look at the decrease in religious families. I can understand if you say it's too far gone to fix now, or you could even pretend that capitalism did not have a part in these problems. But if you think the family is better off now than it was a mere hundred and fifty years ago in this country, you must be walking around with blinders on your eyes. Nothing but the family's average income seems to have occurred to you at all. But there is much more than that, and I absolutely refuse to measure the "well-being" of a family by its weekly or monthly wage.

Propter Quid said...

It's unfortunate, but the value oof labor is not based in the quantity of labor. I could roll rocks around all day diligently but still deserve nothing from anybody. Labor is valued based on how much it contributes to society and this, unfortunately, varies from kind to kind and from year to year. An economic downturn will hurt incomes in any system but in capitalism they are less severe and less common. As for capricious CEOs, when CEOs act out of personal bias, they are a danger to their companies. There is a science behind wages and highering/fireing. It is based in the value of the work offered by employees. If an employee's work costs more than it produces then an employee can't be kept. The same goes for Distributist property. If it cost more to run your personal buisiness than you profit from it you will have to let it go bit by bit.

The Great Depression is a complicated topic but here is a brief summary of some of the catalysts. The world economy declined after WWI and trade, especially with Germany declined. The introduction of the incredibly high, Smoot-Hawley Tariff killed off almost all foreign trade whatsoever. The Federal Reserve, which helped to create the artificial boom of the twenties by lowering interest rates suddenly rose interest rates because of the danger of inflation and a bubble economy. Within a week, the stock market fell and millions of dollars of perceived wealth evaporated. Investment died, and with it the ability to start up new buisinesses or to expand old ones. Without government control we would have still suffered an economic downturn but due to the falled European market, especially Germany, but it would have been nothing like what it was.

Here's Wiki on the issue: Great Depression. This is an article from both Capitalist and Socialist viewpoints and cites many references. (Distributists in my experience use identacle arguments when condemning Capitalism.) In addition there are many school texts that will give you a similar story if you are willing to do the research.

Children have always been expected to work. Outrage against child labor is a modern reaction to the awful conditions that existed in factories at the turn of the century. Such conditions have largely been dealt with due to a modernization of management philosophy.

Interesting that you should be against child labor though. One the reasons for the decline of the familiy in the recent half of the century is the illegalization of child labor. Previously, children were seen as an asset. They were expected to work the farm or family buisiness and to help support the family. It's been this way since the beginning of time. When children no longer work and support the family they become a liability and not an asset. This would be hard to prove conclusively but strongly suspect that the decline of child labor is partly responsible for the decline of children.

By better off, I meant materially. I'll admit that their has been a popular decline in spirituality over recent centuries but I'd suspect that it runs much deeper than the economic system.

God Bless.

Sheila said...

Yes, you can certainly prove that the economy makes it necessary for companies to fire people. But I have a problem with a system wherein those factors are so utterly beyond an individuals control. It wouldn't matter how hard my dad worked, or what he worked at, when his company was bought out. If he had his own business, by working harder, changing his mode of doing business, or cutting costs, he might have saved his business. No such power is given to the employee, however. All he gets is a pink slip and two weeks' notice.

I still wouldn't say that the Depression was due to too much control, but improper control. Insurance for banks, for instance, helps prevent similar problems today. It is an example of government "interference," but it helps protect the economy.

Besides, at this point we're quibbling, because you're still sticking with your original assumption that as long as the economy is booming, everything is okay. Never mind if the booming economy is founded on injustice to some. Your comment about the "supposedly oppressive Gilded Age" proves it. Do you have any idea how truly oppressive the Gilded Age was? But I suppose that since the GNP was high, nothing else matters because "overall people were better off."

Yes, I was in Mr. Bersnak's class as well, and I caught what he said about child labor. I'm still against it, though, in today's capitalist market. But as you say:

Previously, children were seen as an asset. They were expected to work the farm or family buisiness and to help support the family.

Precisely -- I like the idea of children helping with the farm or family business. The same goes for women. But I disagree with a society where women and children are expected to seek work outside the family circle. And I am not convinced that nowadays there will be no opportunities to exploit children. The reason they are not exploited now is because they are not allowed to work. I for one am not willing to trust the manager of my local Wal-Mart to treat children with as much care as they need.

The specific difference in distributism begins with the willingness to look outside of material well-being and include moral well-being. Of course the causes of today's moral decline are deeper than capitalism, but they also include capitalism. In some ways, capitalism is an effect of the same roots -- individualism, for example -- as the decline of the family. But I can find causes for many of the problems with the family directly in capitalism:

Moral decline -- This is contributed to by unbridled advertising, where companies use whatever means necessary to get our attention and our business. It gets worse every day, and you have only to drive along a strip of freeway to notice it.

Divorce rate -- I am sure that the frequent necessity for families to have a dual income contributes to this. A wage is only expected to support one person, not a family. Many people I know, even in higher levels of business, say they can't have the mother staying at home because they need a second income. And when the spouses go their separate ways like this, the marriage suffers.

Contraception -- In order to maintain this double income, children, of course, are to be avoided.

Abortion -- The resort when contraception fails. The abortion industry is funded by many of our beloved big businesses. Often we can't help but buy from businesses that support these things. A more diversified economy based on small business would give us more freedom to avoid making involuntary donations to abortion.

John said...

The only thing a person owns in proceeds from a wage is little green slips of paper that signify an abstract number in the U.S. mint office. He doesn't own anything from that. This doesn't mean that currency is bad, but it does mean that having money in your pocket doesn't mean you own anything in having that money.

By generating wealth, I'm not quite sure what you mean. To me, wealth seems a very elusive thing. It means anything that can be bought or sold.

And no, I don't think that you ever owned a home if you were a military child.

Propter Quid said...

Sheila, to properly rebute your objection I would have to develope in full my political/economic beliefs. I can't do that here but check out my blog in the near future if your interested. I'll be probably be posting an essay on this.

John, by generating wealth, I mean increasing the sum total and worth of comodities, such as food, houses, TVs etc. The more their is, the more their is to go around. The generation of wealth has bee proven objectively to improve the standing of poor people as has been proven by the Asian Tiger Economies.

Your objection to cash is understandable because money has no inherent value of its own. It once did before they floated the currency however. Fortunately, most companies don't pay in cash but in deposits to your bank account. This is where the bank is indepted to YOU.